Sleep Patterns and Aging

Age changes sleep patterns

Gradual changes in the body during aging also affect sleep. Even in healthy older people, sleep is more fragile. It becomes harder to fall asleep and the sleeper wakes up more often during the night.

Laboratory studies on sleep have shown these changes. Sleep efficiency (time spent sleeping compared to time spent in bed), which ranges from about 95% to 98% during youth, drops to 70% to 80% in later ages. In addition, light sleep time increases with age, while deep sleep time decreases.

Some studies have shown that we need less sleep when we are older, but most experts believe we need the same amount. And although we sleep less at night as we get older, we take more naps and fall asleep while reading or watching TV.

Also, as we get older, our waking threshold drops. As a result, noises and other interruptions are more likely to wake the sleeper.

Another aspect of aging is that the normal circadian rhythm (24-hour cycle) of sleep gradually weakens. Sleep increasingly tends to be spread out over the 24 hours of the day, rather than concentrated in the nighttime sleep period. All of these changes are causing a phenomenon that seniors generally complain about: sleep is shorter and less restorative than it used to be.

Most seniors notice that their sleep is disturbed by other changes in their bodies. For example, it can be difficult to get comfortable when you have muscle or joint pain. In addition, most people over the age of 65 need to use the bathroom at least once during the night. However, these are normal aspects of aging.

The most problematic long-term sleep problems for older adults are caused by medical conditions (e.g., lung disease, arthritis, esophageal reflux and heart disease) and mental health problems such as depression and dementia. In addition, specific sleep disorders, such as apnea and nocturnal myoclonus, are also associated with age and disrupt sleep.

Sleep disruption is common in older adults, so it can be difficult to distinguish between a normal aging process and a disease state. Therefore, a medical examination is required to determine the cause of some disorders according to this informative article here in LAWeekly site.

For example, a medical examination is required if the person has persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and if these difficulties are associated with problems during the day (e.g., marked drowsiness, mood changes, severe fatigue, lack of memory, loss of interest or pleasure).

Good lifestyle habits help you sleep better

The adoption of poor habits can accentuate the changes in sleep associated with advancing age. Thus, by simply changing these habits, the sleep disturbance can be reduced or eliminated, improving quality of life. Some of the most effective strategies include reducing caffeine intake, eliminating heavy meals late at night and reducing naps during the day.

In addition, seniors who lead an active lifestyle have fewer sleep problems than their more sedentary counterparts. Regardless of age, physical exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 to 40 minutes, has beneficial effects on sleep.

For more tips on how to sleep better at night, read our article on sleep hygiene.

Specific Sleep Disorders

Just as medical and psychiatric illnesses become more common with age, sleep disorders are also more common. They affect the length as well as the quality of sleep.